Oh, I’ll keep takin’ punches
Until their will grows tired.
- Pearl Jam
The following is a true story and a review in two acts.
I will be simultaneously the author, narrator, judge & jury, art critic, and ex-lover. It will contain several ruminations on sex, boxing, art, and octopuses which, in their own unique way, are still affecting my life. Under my skin you might say. The names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent, the damage has been done. Besides, there are so few actors in this Luis Buñuel burlesque scenario it wouldn’t impact its telling knowing who’s who or not. It might have saved a little embarrassment for the parties involved but the dice have been rolled, I have no other choice but to move my pawn. Free will is damned. This will be a lot of territory to cover I know, I apologize for the self-indulgence in advance. I am after all, the long-winded voice of God. Trust me.
Perhaps you have seen the film Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy and in particular, the infamous if not iconic boxing scene between the two Hollywood stars. Luke (Paul Newman) literally takes a beating at the hands of Dragline (George Kennedy) but still keeps getting up to take another punch until Dragline, exhausted and somewhat bewildered, gives up, recognizing the futility of it all, unable to break Luke’s spirit. Well, imagine Luke was me or is me—I thought so too until recently. I believe now, Luke should have lain and stayed down accepting his fate as a beaten man. His stubbornness was just another form of romanticized courage (see bravery) mano-a-mano. It was a naïve and foolish (boxing) stance that flatters one’s ego and pride—‘twas a manly man that Luke but stupid.
The point is we can all decide at any given moment to throw in the proverbial towel or throw the fight. There is a difference. The former is life beating us down and the latter is premeditated. Luke resigned himself to do neither, but what did he gain in the end? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about choosing death or dying (or even wanting to), but about picking the good fight, the right one and seeing it all the way through. Art and the process of making it are also about seeing an idea through to the end. Artists can be extremely stubborn and annoyingly self-assured, believing in the “mystical” power of art, especially theirs, to communicate to us mere mortals. For the most part this attitude works, but it’s also how they get their asses kicked sometimes—artistically speaking of course. There are many parallels to be found between art and an ass whooping. You just have to look. But alas, I’m jumping ahead of my story.
So, I begin. I was in love approximately two-and-a-half times in my life. Having recently celebrated the half-decade mark, I figure I still have some time to augment this number God willing. The half time was with my wife, currently ex-wife, whom I met in Chicago oh so many years ago. That sounds cruel but I was a bit idealistic and haplessly in love or so I thought. I asked her to marry me one evening over the phone just after she returned to France whilst I was still stuck in Chicago. Distance does seem to make the heart grow fonder after all. Eighteen years and two beautiful kids later, we find ourselves in San Diego en route to finalizing our divorce. No tears please; we are simply one more couple experiencing—for better or worse—the same difficulties thousands before us have. And trust me it’s difficult, increasingly so when “Lawyers, Guns and Money” like Warren Zevon used to croon about get involved. If you replace the Guns with the Courts, you’ll have a better picture of my current situation. Money and Lawyers are symbiotic, they’re like a subject and verb—you need one to make sense of the other. True pariah. Divorce is also an easy tried-and-true method to inheriting emotional and financial ruin. Oh what fun. Anyway…
As for the courts think Wizard of Oz (my friend Catherine’s analogy) complete with hidden stage props and flying monkey butts in your face. And in particular, family court—let’s just say it’s a corrupt and broken system that needs a serious overhaul and a pair of red ruby shoes. I doubt that would even help. What family court truly needs is the Tin Man’s heart to survive. No one should tell you family court or court-appointed mediation is there to help you or your children either. They’d be lying to you in my opinion. My two children are paying the price for some very irresponsible and adolescent behavior from two parents (supposedly adults), alleged friends and family, subjective court rulings, and some very archaic, sexist, and stereotypical beliefs about who can be the better provider—mom or dad. Love may keep people together but it is also very soluble. Marriage is like glue that loses its stickiness and becomes hard and brittle. Unyielding, it is transformed into weaponry to be used freely upon and against one another, without pity or remorse, in times of trouble or divorce. Empathy is no longer existent, blood splatters the floor. Helas…
My first full love happened to be with a French woman as well named Mylène. There aren’t enough words or feelings I could express about the passion we once shared. “Faire du sport” (play a sport) was our little colloquialism for having sex. “Let’s faire du sport we’d say” and we would. (I recently discovered there is a whole genre of Japanese erotic art called Shunga which when translated means “picture of spring”—a euphemism for making love). Our love making was intense and included the fine art of cunnilingus lest you’ve forgotten the title to my little narcissistic story already. Brag I do not, it was real. Charles Bukowski once said about some of the women he had known, “[they] knew something about life” and he was right; Mylène did too and I drank deeply from her spring until my insides burst.
The second and most recently consummated love (post separation from wife) was with an American woman named Lea. Lea happens to be one of San Diego’s youngest and brightest upcoming visual artists working today. She happens to revere Cool Hand Luke and has recently exhibited a whole new body of work comprised of boxing gloves—hand-sewn from paper and tape—and displayed underneath a full-size boxing ring suspended and turned upside down from the rafters. You see gentle reader—my story’s starting to make sense.
I would like to think I’m partially responsible for this body of work—as a muse, source material, inspiration, whatever—as I saw a vast majority of it being painstakingly assembled under my admiring eyes. Oh so in love ‘twas I! There’s a difference however (for an artist) between acknowledging an inspiration and their creative egos; in the artist’s world, ego is primordial, often blinding, their so-called original ideas are like original sin but they come at what price? Who pays?
Full speed, half blind
Full tilt, decline
You look so sad in all the photos I see of you.
Ah Lea, yes indeed. Nobody knew of the troubles we put each other through daily or the nights we made love in the car, on the couch, in the kitchen, on the carpet, at the foot of the staircase, the wine shop (if we could have), or letting our “freak flags fly” together, nude on Black’s Beach watching Bruno the Sumo Wrestling German Giant peddle his big fat belly and tiny little cock up and down the shoreline. Good times weren’t they? Did our desire override the reality? We waited so long, why? I loved this woman, I still do. “So it goes.” – Thanks Kurt.
By this time you might be wondering what happened or how did I manage to mess things up (did or didn’t only matters to me) but if everything was so perfect, what went wrong? Besides, you might also be asking what it has to do with boxing and octopuses. For the boxing part, it was a convenient metaphor, an easy cliché, a way of surviving an extremely difficult situation, a very difficult ex-wife and the final moments of a rather long cinematic episode in my life that had run out sequels. For Lea, though sympathetic to my cause, it resonated on a much more personal and artistic level as she states on her website, “a body of sculpture and photography that results from my own range of idealism and doubt in the face of both personal and political realities I would like to change. Through this work I explore potential power and inherent instability, and the application of passionate energy to implicitly futile outcomes.” The title of her exhibit is “Tremendous Effort.” It took a tremendous effort to keep us together; it felt more often than not, like two magnets with similar polar charges trying to come together. We fit together like nickels on a dime. – Charlotte Gainsburg.
The thing is I was never able to learn what those personal and political realities were. I didn’t have enough time. Looking at Lea’s work however, I’m not sure the viewer would have any clearer of an idea of those realities than I did, other than the intentional uselessness of gloves made out of paper. But once again I digress. The point is, I felt like I was being stomped on by Dragline over and over again by everything and everyone but somehow managed (with Lea’s help) to keep getting up. We couldn’t help ourselves as a couple, but we could sure help each other individually. Was I perfect in any of this? I’m here to tell you no. At fault yes, aren’t we all to some extent? But damn, sure as shitin’ I gave it my all until one day Lea packed up and left. My tentacles no longer had anything to cling to—my grip slipped, as did our love. Much sorrow. We tried.
Perhaps now I am too numb; the endorphins have taken over. My body is riddled with punches and feverish pain, a combination of left and right hooks and body shots. There rests lost love, lawyers and judges, money, hate, spite, and children who just want to be children without their parents’ bullshit.
As for octopuses, this is where an early 19th century Japanese artist by the name of Katsushika Hokusai enters the story. Hokusai was an ukiyo-e painter, printmaker (woodblock) and at the time, Japan’s leading authority on Chinese painting. His notoriety came from a series of woodblock prints entitled “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” Some consider him to be the father of modern-day Manga as well, though his work has less of a storyboard quality to it and is sketchier. He could also be a conceptual artist by today’s standards of concept-laden performances and installations. Rumor once had him painting a large blue curve on paper then chasing a chicken across it whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He explained to the Emperor that it was a painting of the Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating on top. Hans Christian Andersen may have gotten it right after all. Like many of his fellow artists at that time, Hokusai produced several woodblock prints called Shunga or what is essentially erotic art. In fact, it was almost expected of them to do so. This would be like Grant Wood painting porn on the side (perhaps he did) or Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” works or even some of Edward Hopper’s “couple” paintings. A more obvious comparison would be that of Gustave Courbet and L’Origine du monde. However, the best-known work of Shunga by Hokusai is entitled “Tako to ama” or The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.
It was The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife and works like it that kept haunting us, reappearing throughout our relationship in images and full-blown intimacy. I enjoyed playing the octopus. I believe Lea enjoyed being the Fisherman’s wife. The first time it happened was sitting on a park bench while looking through a book together by some Spanish artist—a bit like Lady Pink’s graffiti—and falling upon an image of a very buxom young lady having cunnilingus performed on her by an octopus. We must have lingered over this page for an eternity, our fingertips gently tracing the interlocking tentacles on the page as our fingers embraced. Bliss. I instantly knew right then I loved this woman.
You don’t want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware, I’m tearing you asunder.
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.
- Kate Bush
Then it happened one day: an exhibition, different expectations, assumptions, lists of false hopes, travels, and dreams, a psychotic ex-boyfriend and vengeful ex-wife, priorities without priority, and BAM!—no more Lea, no more anything. With it came the deafening silence, lines drawn in the sand, rumors, friendships disappearing, and the unbearable weight of memory—tons and tons of it. An avid runner, Lea introduced me to what has become an obsession and a life-saver, my own. Running has kept me off the ledges of some of the taller bridges in town. No lie. In particular, a bridge spanning highway 163 that connects beautiful Balboa Park with the rest of downtown San Diego. I continue to run across this bridge as we once did together, often glancing over the edge—low stone wall, feeble wire grating—and think, wouldn’t take much to blur the line between the living and the dead. I continue to choose wisely to this day thankfully, but it’s still a nice reminder every time I do make it across that it won’t be me perched up so high. Enough…
Was our couple worth it? On many levels yes. On others, I’m just not sure. It all seems abstract, distant, fading, a dull ache, losing something that was already lost. And this is where I start to question the outcome—the byproduct—of so much sacrifice and loss that I have to believe something good will come of it. There must be an answer, a tangible result, a concrete manifestation, a thing, something, Cool Hand Luke rearing its ugly head. Perhaps a work of art that is on par or assuredly surpasses our suffering, circumvents it, portrays it or simply stops the pain. I ask Lea, can art do this, can yours?
A letter to Lea,
I’m left perplexed, disappointed, frustrated, and empty by what I have seen. As a result, art needn’t always be about suffering or joy, beauty, simplicity or whatever half-baked idea gets you to make art. Desire, good intentions, a commitment and dedication to your craft can keep you warm and cuddly at night, justifying the days you’re not in the studio busting your ass, but desires like ideas are only fantasies if nothing comes of them. If as an artist you communicate without words and a pen is nowhere to be found, then you better damn well bring something for all of us to gnaw on after you’ve softened up the carcass of your idea. Otherwise, I just don’t care. I can’t anymore—I used to—but not anymore. A full belly is not what’s needed. No pretty pictures, no white walls either, hunger my friend, hunger—are you satiated with so little, with such a Tremendous Effort? The quote Ne Travaillez Jamais (Never work) has been credited to the French artist Yves Klein, only to be co-opted by Rirkrit Tiravanija at Art Basel decades later. It was an attempt to work more (on art) by not working at all, at least for any monetary or employable means. Klein was a petite bourgeoisie with the means to do so but his message is not lost on those who care to listen. In the end, it’s what you have to exhibit that counts. By any means necessary. The savagery, the brutal savagery has been lost in your work. It might have leaked out of the upside-down boxing ring dangling from your rafters.
End of Act IPowered by Sidelines